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Unsubscribes, Unopens, and Spam Complaints, Oh My! – Email Marketing Strategy Gone Wrong

Email marketing is the best strategy for creating relationships that lead to sales. But many entrepreneurs are worried about unsubscribes, unopened emails, and spam complaints to the point of holding their dear, precious email list and not emailing it. This is one of the biggest mistakes in email marketing.

Torie Mathis and her cohost Sean go over how to get over email marketing’s biggest hurdles and how to use your email list as a powerful tool to get sales in your business. Even if people unsubscribe. 🙂

We will cover:

  • Why unsubscribed are okay
  • Why you need to let people unsubscribe legally
  • The biggest mistakes to email marketing
  • What is email marketing
  • How to grow your list
  • How emailing your list makes them more likely to buy
  • What to say when you email your list
  • How to know what’s working and what’s not working
  • What email marketing tools to use (see options below)
  • How to create a customer journey as your email marketing strategy

RELATED: Best Email Marketing Practices that WORK!

Listen or watch the full episode below:



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(transcription is auto-generated)

SAF 70

Sean: [00:00:00] And then a few people unsubscribed who cares, but ultimately the goal of the email was absolutely a success.

Torie: [00:00:12] Hey, welcome to Smart AF I’m your host Torie Mathis. We’ve got a great show for you today. So let’s get started. Hey guys, we’ll welcome you to the show. I’m your host Torie Mathis, and I’m here with the amazing founder of Milestone Through Time Automotive Museum, Sean Mathis. 

Sean: [00:00:33] That’s me. How’s it going? 

Torie: [00:00:35] So happy that you’re back. I missed Sean for an episode. I was here solo  You know what’s really funny. I had this client that we sent emails for, did a monthly newsletter for them and they started to get people unsubscribing from their email list. And you know what they did? 

Sean: [00:00:53] Fired you?

Torie: [00:00:53] They canceled our services. They were not going to email anymore. I didn’t really get fired. They were not going to email anymore because a couple of people unsubscribed. It wasn’t even crazy amounts of people. It was just a few people unsubscribed, but yeah, you want email marketing. Yeah, what you should totally be doing for your business. You cannot hold your email list to be so precious and not want to let it go because, you know what? Some people will sign up for your email list, and they’ll no longer need your services, or they’re just busy and don’t want a whole bunch of emails or whatever. 

Sean: [00:01:30] Maybe your business is a one-time purchase deal. And that was it. 

Torie: [00:01:34] But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean stop emailing everybody else. Unsubscribes are just part of the game. So there are just some really big email marketing mistakes that I see some businesses make. And yeah, number one is unsubscribing. 

Sean: [00:01:50] And in saying that means, you need to be using an email service that enables your people to unsubscribe if you are just bulk emailing them. That’s illegal. 

Torie: [00:02:06] It is illegal?

Sean: [00:02:06] It’s illegal. Plus, you’re not giving anybody an option to get out of that. Now you’re just straight up spamming them, and they can’t do anything about it until your whole account gets closed down, in which case you’re going to have much larger problems. 

Torie: [00:02:18] Can-Spam Act meant that was a law that came out that means, and one of the things is it’s to get rid of people, spamming calling your phone all the time. There was a, do not call is these things evolve after people start. Abusing them and email was one of them. And some of the things that are part of this law is that you have to allow people to unsubscribe. You have to have a valid email address or address like a physical address on every single email because it shows that you’re an actual business. There are a couple of other things, and you can Google Can-Spam Act. You can see what’s all involved there, but the best way to do this you need to use an email service provider, 

Sean: [00:02:55] Which then gives you analytics, which, I mean that it’s fascinating. That’s what you want. If you’re going to do this at all. You’ll want to be able to see who’s opened your email and how many just there are all kinds of stuff you can see. That’s fascinating. 

Torie: [00:03:11] There have been some emails that you’ve sent out that you’ve been, Holy crap. It’s an amazing open rate that you would have never known if you didn’t know that.

Sean: [00:03:19] And just that open rate. What’s an amazing number. It’s still half it’s only half of the people that email gets sent to. If I can get half of them to open it, you’re like, Holy shit. That’s a lot of people. It’s never more than that. I think the highest I got was when we did the Guinness record.

And that was when people were actually, they needed to open these emails to be a part of it on all that, and that we still don’t leave. Just barely breached 70%. I think it was like 72, 73, something like that. So even though these people signed their cars up to participate in this event where they knew they were getting important information emailed to them, it still didn’t open.

That tells you right there that people are gonna not open your emails. They’re going to unsubscribe. And ultimately you need to realize that It’s okay. It is absolutely okay. People are busy if they don’t want to open your email, and it ultimately doesn’t matter. Some people will open your email.

Torie: [00:04:23] Yeah. Some people will purchase from those emails. Who knows what kind of positive actions are going to happen per email versus a handful of people unsubscribing 

Sean: [00:04:33] For Miles Through Time, I’ve sent an email out where we need funds to help complete some of the exhibits that we’re building.

And so it was just an email going, Hey, this is what’s going on with the museum. We could use some help and it would go towards completing these exhibits. If you can help, here’s a link. It took them to the website where they could then donate money online. I had a couple of people email me. Where can I send a check? I had a few other people that, actually. Filled out the thing online that gave money.

Torie: [00:05:03] That was linked from the email? 

Sean: [00:05:05] And then a lot of people went to the website. So I could see that traffic went way up, and then a few people that unsubscribed like who cares, right? Ultimately the goal of the email was it was absolutely a success that without that email never would have been able to raise any funds.

Torie: [00:05:24] And now, that it’s okay to send emails and that people do respond and people do care, but what are you gonna do? Oh, my precious email list. I can’t send an email because somebody might unsubscribe.

Sean: [00:05:35] You’ll see, as you email people, you will get a core group of people that will almost always reply to the emails that aren’t.

Needed to have any kind of reply. They’ll be like, great, thanks. Or whatever the case may be. And that’s it, which is fine. But even the comparison between the people that do that and the people that open it, you can see how many people click on things there. And then, I think, I don’t know if there’s an email I’ve ever sent it. At least one person has unsubscribed. What’s annoying that you’ve got is 

Torie: [00:06:10] That people will spam you. 

Sean: [00:06:12] You’ve been your customers. If they, if you’ve got their email and you’re sending them something, they have three options. Open it, read it, and enjoy it. Unsubscribe or spam your ass, the spam. Unless you really did spam them drives me absolutely nuts. Because they should be able to unsubscribe, and it’s done, but the minute they spam you, it’s. Basically, it’s a hit against you. That doesn’t look good. Now in the scheme of things, probably isn’t gonna matter because it’s random. But if you did, that’s where if you did start, like just adding a bunch of emails that they didn’t know.

Torie: [00:06:48] Okay. So let’s back up here with the spam because there are two things going on there. And the first one is in order to have an actual email list, people have to. Opt-in again with the whole legal thing and allow you to email them, meaning you can’t just go on LinkedIn and go find everybody’s email that you think might be a client of yours. Stick it in your email list and start emailing, 

Sean: [00:07:11] Which happens often because I get a shit ton of emails still. And I’m like, how do they have my email? And I look, and it’ll be like info@milestotime.com, or it’ll be info at Lake shark, media.com. And that those are the email addresses that are on our websites that they’ve just scraped them. Maybe they’re potential customers, and we get sent stuff. 

Torie: [00:07:32] And you’ll notice that a lot of the times that you get emails from that they’re from Gmail accounts because they know it’s wrong, and they don’t want their actual email address to be flagged for spamming people. And yeah. So you really, like if you’re going to get all these unsubscribes and stuff if your list is of actual people that opted in, you probably will get fewer unsubscribes and less of these spams, 

Sean: [00:07:58] But they’re not going to go the way. You will always get people that are. As long as it’s, the list is always growing, you will always get people to unsubscribe.

Torie: [00:08:09] So, some of the ways to grow your list would be to ask your current customers or customers that you have to be added to your client list. You are allowed to do that. You can also have some type of lead magnet on your website that maybe has a special or a booklet or coupon, or you’re giving somebody something in exchange for an email address.

Some people run contests. Contests, which could be good. As long as the contest prize is something that only your type of clients would want. I see a lot of customers or a lot of like our customers, our business customers do like an iPad giveaway on Facebook, everybody in their mom. Once an iPad for free, everybody in their mom are not your target market.

So if you’re trying to grow your list with some type of contest, giving something out, that is just general to everybody might not be the very best thing. What are some of the things that you’ve done that you think have grown your list? The best? 

Sean: [00:09:00] I think the pop-up for miles through time is probably one of the greatest things, because they’ve, at that point, they’ve somehow found out about the museum.

They’re able to then get their interest piqued enough that, that little pop-up or something that says there’s sidebar a signup sheet as well, that the sheet, a signup form that lets them know, and if they put their email in there, they’ll stay up to date about whatever’s going on with the museum.

And that seems to work pretty well. And then I’ll wind up doing stuff where. Only if they get that email will they get certain things? Like the last one, I sent out, leave a review. And they gave him an opportunity to win a season pass and a t-shirt or something. And so a bunch of people did that.

And then I told them specifically in the email that this was only going to be for the people that read the email, meaning nobody on social media or anything was going to know about it. And yet. In the sense that they weren’t going to be qualified for it. Once the contest was over, I did then let people know on social media that was something that we had done for email subscribers only, which then made it so that, Hey, maybe they should be a part of that list as well to get given those same opportunities.

I also tell people that email will be the first place. If it’s like a major thing with the museum. Yeah, that I will share everywhere. I will always try to make it email first. So they get a priority announcement to it just to make them feel more a part of the establishment. And I know it probably doesn’t pertain to every single business, but the museum’s a bit unique in that, that I really want people to take ownership in the entire thing, and being a part of the newsletter and being one of the first to know gives them that kind of. An important factor that I think they appreciate. 

Torie: [00:10:47] You’re the type of business that also gets many phone calls. So I noticed that you do every once in a while, I hear you on the phone, and you tell people like if you want to know what’s going on, or you want to hear when things sign up for the email, follow us on social and say, you’re directing people towards that as well.

Sean: [00:11:00] And I do that in person to visitors because, again, it’s something that’s constantly changing. We do have a big car show and various events that, that’s how they’re going to know. Plus not everybody is on social media. But damn near, everyone’s got an email at this point. I know 90 year olds that that, they have an email address that, maybe they check once a week, but that’s more than the zero percentage they’re on social media.

And I think even if you had, even if you were just a restaurant or, any other business, like you, you will benefit from contacting your customers via email. 

Torie: [00:11:36] And I think you just got to try different things. If you didn’t try the pop-up, you wouldn’t have known if it worked, if you didn’t try telling people on the phone, you wouldn’t know if it works.

So don’t be afraid to try different things. I know for my website  Toriemathis.com, we have lots of like little different guides. You have a couple of magazines on there that you can get for free, and those are the best ones for me. But whatever your business is you just gotta try different things and not be afraid of trying it.

Sean: [00:11:59] One of the easiest things to do would be to ask you. Ask a customer, especially if you can, because again, knowledge is sometimes there. You have too much knowledge, like we just said in business, that it’s hard for you to think outside what your customers might ask or not know. So with saying that ask one of your customers, what questions would you have that you want to know that as a business you can totally provide and then send out the answers, emails, the answers like, your customers are asking these questions.

Give them the answers, and don’t do it so frequently that it’s, you’re going to force them to unsubscribe because it’s annoying but do it often enough that they’re like, they want to, open that email every so often, because it is a quote, it is something they’re curious about and they know if they open it.

You’re going to give them, an answer. 

Torie: [00:12:51] Yes. So you definitely don’t want to not email your list because once you do, people are going to be like, who the hell is this? And they’re going to unsubscribe. So you do want to do it often enough so that they remember who you are and you don’t want to be like, buy my shit.

Because if you always do that, like they’re going to unsubscribe. I would too. 

Sean: [00:13:06] Your goal is to make them want to buy from you not. Trick them into buying, don’t shove it down their throat and say, buy my shit or die. It, that’s not the case. It’s a. Here’s how I can help you. Here’s some knowledge that can help you here.

Give I don’t think you ever even ever have to say buy ever because just that amount of knowledge that you’re giving them, especially if it’s nuggets, just little nuggets of knowledge and maybe the rest of the information is on your website, or a landing page of some sort that they can then go, Oh, great advice.

And maybe it’s just a portion of what they need. And the rest of the solution is what you sell. You don’t even have to sell that to them. They’re naturally gonna progress to going, Oh, here’s all this information like with COVID right? The air is poison, right? All these little particles flying around, it’s going to kill you.

If you send them an email and say, Hey, there’s, things you can do, filters, all that kind of stuff. Here’s a bunch of free things. You can do click them over to a landing page. Here’s that list of all these things that are great. But to really top it off, you can get things like these HEPA filter air purifiers or whatever the case may be.And they click on that and then, Oh, chances are, that’s something that you offer and can install. And it is a natural progression rather than just saying, here’s this thing that can clean the air and you’ll be poisoned free. Nobody’s going to click on that shit because you’re shoving it down their throat as something that they need to buy. And they don’t necessarily want to be told to buy that. They want to choose to buy it. 

Torie: [00:14:41] I think that, yeah, social media is the same when people, when you give them information, rather than just say, buy my stuff, people are definitely more responsive. And then people want to open your email because you’re giving them you’re teaching them or entertaining them.

Like you don’t have to always be teaching. Teaching can be entertaining as well. But if you always have something like that, that you’re giving them these benefits for opening your emails, they will continue to open their emails.

Sean: [00:15:03] And on the same note, depending on what your business is, that. Email sequence may be the journey that the customer needs to take before they’ll ever buy from you.

Maybe your item is so large or such an investment that you need to teach them and they need to learn or take the time to learn more about it, basically that. It may take eight emails over the course of eight months before they’re ever ready to buy. Especially if it’s a high-dollar item.

I know me specifically if it was a high dollar item and it was something like just, I found them on Facebook and I’m like, I liked the stuff that watches, for example, I’m a major watch guy, right? I will sign up for the newsletter. I’ll keep a pace on it. I’ll look at the new watches that are coming out.

I’ll wait for the. The discount codes that come out and all these things that I’m not more than likely going to buy it right then and there, especially because there are so many options, I’d go broke. If I bought every single watch I wanted, but eventually, I will probably make the purchase. But it might not be for eight months, but I know for a fact, like I liked the watch, right?

So I’m not going to unsubscribe unless they S they email me daily for two weeks in a row. I’m going to unsubscribe because it’s too much. That tells me how they make them sell me the new models that come out. Tell me the special, just because it’s St. Patrick’s day. Tell me, you’re giving me 10% off.

I’m not ready to buy it St. Patrick’s day, but it’s an excuse for an email, maybe by the 4th of July. I want that discount code, right? So there’s that aspect of it as well. Literally, no matter what your business is. You can think of some sort of sequence of emails that you can automate and then randomly place in as things become relevant in real-time in your business.

Torie: [00:16:48] Yeah. That mattress store strategy, if you look at a mattress store, you think how boring is it to sell mattresses? But mattress stores always have something going on. Like you said, for St Patrick’s day, something going on, there’s a sale. There’s something, something special that you can always think of some way of emailing them. Yeah, something new, something exciting, something going on, 

Sean: [00:17:10] Tell them it’s your birthday, open your email. And then there’s the, you can literally try every angle of everything and just keep trying stuff and go back and look at the analytics. Especially if you use something like what we do on Kartra and we’ll have the link in the description below this episode.

You can see what’s working, and what’s not working based on that specific email you sent. So if you go back and look, Hey, that last email, you wrote it. You’re super proud of it. Nobody opened it. It sucked right? Versus one that you didn’t even realize was that good, but it was that appealing to your audience that now at least, where before you would have thought that was the garbage email, but it wasn’t. It was the one that you thought was good.

And the only way you can ever know that kind of stuff is by looking at the analytics behind the scenes. And that’s how you’re really going to be able to hone in that audience. And again, don’t be afraid when they unsubscribe it’s okay. 

Torie: [00:18:06] I know you had a few unsubscribes and some spam. Complaints quite a while ago.

And I asked you if you had an onboarding sequence, which you didn’t have set up, so you set that up, a couple of emails for every single person when they’re brand new because when Sean sends out emails, he sends them out from, Sean Mathis at Milesthroughtime.com  somebody signed up at Miles Through Time and then they didn’t realize who Sean Mathis was.

They could be like, who’s this guy unsubscribed, or who’s this guy spam? But if you want, once he sets up the emails that tell about the museum and say who Sean Mathis is, and this is my story. Did they have a connection to you? And they’re gonna remember your name and not just Miles Through Time, which I think is a really great way to build that relationship and build that trust that people want to do business with you or want to know more.

And so that, that kind of helped your spam and unsubscribes, didn’t it?

Sean: [00:18:54] For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Cause again, they’re putting their email in there. I’m not doing it. So if the automation sequence automatically sends them a welcome email, there’s the first email. They know that they know it’s working, they’re going to come.

And then, over the course of a couple of weeks, they’re going to know who I am. They’re going to know how the museum was founded. They’re going to know all these different things when they get my one-off email that I send out to everybody. It’s not a surprise. They know me already, and I, and at this point, I’ve got a lot of people that look forward to it.

There are people that I might email list that lives on the other side of the country. They probably, may never go into the museum. Who knows what could happen still? I’ll take it. And some of those people, they’re the ones that emailed me back. Great. When I’m over there, I’ll make sure I stopped by.

Torie: [00:19:40] Yeah, I think every business can add a little bit of personality, show, tell a little bit about the business. I think that just makes people more, more likely, and more want to do business. I know, like I’ve talked about before, like the rock people, like we were doing a whole bunch of hiking and walking, in our neighborhood and stuff.

And so somehow, I got onto this veteran. Thing and ended up finding this company, and I think it’s go ruck. And I signed up for their email list. Their onboarding sequence was fantastic. I still have not bought one of these, ruck bag. I haven’t unsubscribed though either now, because the emails are so good.

Every single time they tell me things that they have on sale. Like they always have stuff on sale. They always, the mattress store, they always have something going on. But they give some really good information. They use. Pictures. It feels pretty cohesive. Like they’re really good at being consistent about what they’re doing.

So it’s not every time they’re thinking of some new concept, they like stick with the same type of style and pictures and things like that, which I think helps with that brand cohesiveness and builds that trust and stuff. I don’t think I would unsubscribe like I really look forward to getting their emails, and if I did want to buy a ruck like they would definitely be the ones.

That I would do the business. If they do a really cute thing or like the dog, they have this lab this Brown lab, that’s at the bottom of every single email. And he’s got, I don’t know if he’s CFO or he’s something from the company and it’s got like a cute little message from him and a picture of him.

And it just gives it like that little something that I’m like, Oh, like I like getting their emails because and I’m probably not their main. Target market, is probably like a bunch of military dudes. Yet they still have that little thing that just makes it like, to me, I think it’s cute.

And it makes me like them even more showing that little bit of personality in emails, like an email that I signed up for randomly, however many, like man, 

Sean: [00:21:27] And I guarantee that if they opened up their analytics and their email, they are still getting. A ton of unsubscribes and they’re probably getting a bunch of spam as well.

Torie: [00:21:37] It doesn’t stop them from emailing. They still email, not too much, not too little. Just enough to you’ll keep you top of mind. I think once a month is okay. I think twice a month is probably better. I think it matters what kind of business people are in. How often do you email? 

Sean: [00:21:54] I tried to do a couple of times a month, a couple of times a month.

Torie: [00:21:56] So we have clients that we email for. I have one that emails every single day and every single day, there are unsubscribes every single day. There are spam things, but the core of the people that open his emails are like just these mega fans of his like they eat it up. And so for him and the direction that he’s trying to go, like that’s totally worth it to get however many unsubscribes or however many spams because that’s just who he’s decided that he’s going to be.

And we’re at like, Almost two years of emailing every single day. 

Sean: [00:22:35] That’s crazy. 

Torie: [00:22:36] Yeah. That’s, that was an intentional thing that he wanted to do. And in, I would say 99.9% of the time, he is not saying buy anything. It stories it’s, it’s kinda like the rock thing. You want to open it because it’s always something different.

It’s always stories. It’s jokes. It’s really good nuggets of information. And whatever your business is, you can’t do that curse of knowledge and think that people just automatically assume they know all these things. Figure out what those things are that you want to share with people. If they’ve done business with you, or if they’ve signed up. They’ve already said I am interested. They have stepped up and said that. So whatever it is that you’re emailing out they’re going to like it. They’re going to keep going. At least the ones that would buy from you, the ones that are unsubscribing,  screw them.

They probably would have never bought from you anyway. Or maybe they bought that one time. And for whatever reason, not your people anymore. And that’s okay. So if people unsubscribe, it’s totally good, it’s totally better than not emailing your list. I don’t say it’s your precious list, and you don’t want to just serve it well, 

Sean: [00:23:39] And it’s likable to email it, and it’s like social media you don’t need a hundred thousand followers to have a hundred people actually care about you.

You don’t need a hundred thousand emails to have a hundred people actually open the email. It’s kinda quality over quantity, but at the same time, you’re working on quantity to grow your quality. So you, the closer that those two numbers are the better, if 90% of them are opening your emails, that’s fantastic.

Torie: [00:24:06] Probably not going to happen. Probably not 90% that’s a lot. 

Sean: [00:24:10] And 20 percent is probably pretty reasonable, though. Yes. If only 20% open. Call it a win and move on. Don’t, stew over putting all this work into it. And nobody’s opening my emails. You’re posting shit on Facebook, and nobody’s seeing it either, 

Torie: [00:24:28] Unless they go to your page and then they’re like, Oh look, they are doing stuff wow, I like the stuff they’re doing. I’ll totally buy from them. 

Sean: [00:24:35] See, and that validates the entire concept of it. If you think of you sending the email as yours. Facebook page or your Twitter handle. And then everybody that opens that email, those are all your followers. Those are all the people that are going to retweet. Those are, are the people that want to see your shit.

It’s the exact same concept. Other than your return rate is much higher on that email aspect. You think a Twitter, all it is somebody spitting off a bunch of shit. That somebody wants to hear and retweets is all it is. It’s just it’s. So it starts with one voice saying something and somebody either retweets it or doesn’t. That’s all your email is look how big Twitter is.

Torie: [00:25:18] So if you want some free resources and tools to grow your business, we have lots of stuff over at toriemathis.com. If you want to go check that out, and if you liked this episode, fantastic, we would appreciate it. If you would leave us a review and we will see you on the next one. If you want to get smart tools to build your business, go to  getsmartaf.com.

About Digital Marketing Expert Torie Mathis

Torie Mathis helps entrepreneurs, like you, use digital marketing to grow your business without wasting time, money, or your sanity.  She is a best-selling author, Army veteran, speaker + trainer, and your digital marketing coach. You don't need crazy tech skills, buckets of cash, or dedicated staff to market your business. In fact, you don't even need a lot of time. What you need is to be SMART.

Torie hosts SMART AF, a show for non-techy entrepreneurs looking to grow their business, with her husband Sean and is the creator of SMART AF Magazine. Learn from Torie at the Smart Arsenal and on her channel.

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